Why it is so hard to find friends as an expat and what to do against it!

You may feel alone, but you are notLonely in a new city

Just moved into a new country and are finding it hard to actually meet people and make friends? Well, no worries you are far from alone and there is a solution to it. Life as an expatriate is hard but also rewarding!

The locals are so cold to me and/or cannot be bothered to talk to me

 I have brought this up already in another article but I will bring it up here again as this will help a lot of people feel less depressed after arriving here in Munich. But first off, let me tell you a bit about me so that you can see that I am indeed qualified to talk about it.

I am German by birth but my parents moved to France when I was 5 years old and I then stayed in France until I was 16. I then went to a boarding school in England (while still living in France). I lived there in the International Center (will be important in the later part of the article). I then studied in England. After that I did a travel around the world for 14 months. Now I have been living for nearly 6 years in Germany

Now lets continue with the actual topic of the article. 

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the locals. Just imagine the roles were reversed. You are the local at home and an expatriate who does not speak your language comes up to you. You have extreme problems understanding him as his (put in here what language you speak at home) is very bad. You have problems speaking whatever language he speaks. How would you react?

You would at first greet him nicely and talk with the expatriate as much as is possible with the language barrier. He would start talking about stuff though that you cannot understand. You would very soon simply turn around and start talking with your friends again since a) you have enough friends, b) speaking with the foreigner requires too much effort, c) the expat is talking about stuff that is foreign to you.

Remind you of something? Yes... you are the expat now.

I can even tell you why people react like this. It is down to biology: 

_The human body has evolved so as to expend the least possible energy for the highest reward. It costs energy to understand the language of the expat and you do not really need it. You can simply talk with your other friends in your own language. 

_The expatriate talks about stuff that does not really apply to the local. The local is interested in local policitics as his experience is that this is the only thing that affects him or at most national politics. The local has never lived abroad, although he has been on holidays abroad, and is simply not that interested in the global stuff or how other countries are affected. The local and the expatriate get bored of each other and waste needlessly energy trying to understand something that does not affect them.

_ Everything foreign is an unknown, therefore should be regarded with mistrust. 

I have been to a lot of different places and lived there (Germany, France, Switzerland, England and now back in Germany) and whereever you go, you see the same pattern. It is always the same and is actually the main reason why expatriates go back to their own countries.

So no worries, that is a normal thing and it very likely has nothing to do with you.

And what can I do against it?

If you are at University, and are very outgoing, not shy etc... then the answer is easy. While I was at university in Durham, I made right from the start the effort to hang around with the other English. I was still a foreigner (my nickname, actually the only name by which people referred to me, was "German-Tim") but I was recognised everywhere. But a) this is only possible if you are a really outgoing type (and that I am... my record was 15 days going out every night in a row partying), b) every now and then I spent time with the erasmus students, c) you are university.

If you have a job or are not superbly outgoing and not shy then you are going to have a VERY hard time socialising with the locals (especially in the western richer countries... I will expand on the difference between richer and poorer countries and how it influences the life of an expat in a further News article) .

The answer to the above is quite obvious. You need to look for people who shares the same interests as you and someone who can identify with what you are doing. And, in a foreign country, who would that be? Other expats...

IMPORTANT: I am not talking about people from your country. If you hang out exclusively with them, then you miss out on the whole experience of living abroad

You have to join the expatriates community in the city that you live in. If you are lucky then you have a local International Friends community where all the Internationals and the open locals congregate. If you do not have it, then you have to search a lot but you will find it eventually.

Just download the app of International Friends and have a look if there is one community within 2 hours of your place of residence. 

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I joined International Friends... and now?

International Friends is a network for expats that is built on meeting up in real life. The philosophy of the network is that expatriates can only find friends if they meet up. So, once you have attended an event, you automatically get connected to the other people who have attended the same event as you and you can now chat with the person, get notified whenever that person attends an event so that you can maybe join the same event etc...

It works really really well for meeting new people and building up your social circle.  All my social circle are from there.

I came to be an expat because I wanted to get integrated in my new country! 

Getting integrated in a new country completely and getting mostly local friends is a very long process and will only be achievable over a long time. But... you will see as well that you may not wish to have that exclusively. You will want to meet other expats at some point because you simply miss the broader range of interests that expats have. I am simply not that interested in making local friends (although I also have them) and am feeling more at home with other open-minded expats from around the world.

Whatever your aim, International Friends is your place to go, even if you are going to leave the community in a couple of years or a couple of months. 

And for those, who are skeptical about what I wrote above... See you sooner or later at one of the International Friends events :)


​It is very difficult to find local friends, and at first I would not insist on it. You can destroy a lot and you make yourself very sad in the case you do not manage. I would give it time and not force it. 

Just join your local expatriate community. Download the app of International Friends as they are usually the main active community in your city.


Comments 1

Tim Lavagi on Wednesday, 19 December 2018 11:58

Very useful! Will be joining International Friends and have a look what is going on there...

Very useful! Will be joining International Friends and have a look what is going on there...
Friday, 24 March 2023

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